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September 1, 2010
It's a pretty simple formula, really, but one that apparently wasn't the preferred modus operandi during the previous coaching regime.
Freshman Ben Turk, he of the large muscles and big leg, showed great promise in 2009, starting six games and performing at his best during a second stint as the starter when he booted eight times for a brilliant 45.5-yard average.
But it was the inconsistency during his first four-game stint midway through the season that cast doubt as the Irish moved forward with Eric Maust, who battled with Turk for playing time.
Then along came a new coaching staff with a new philosophy, and the philosophy was pretty simple. Kick more often. That's it. Kick more often. The results with Turk have been startling.
"Our punter has been very, very consistent," said Brian Kelly at his weekly teleconference Tuesday. "Ben has been doing a very good job from the spring game on. He's really shown a consistency in the punting game that we feel good about."
Ask Turk for the key to success and he keeps coming back to a simple formula. The coaching staff, led by special teams coach Mike Elston, insisted that he punt more frequently in practice.
"One thing I've been doing more this year is kicking a lot more balls," said Turk, the muscularly-built 5-foot-11, 196-pounder from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale Fla. "I think that's helped my consistency by the repetitions on the practice field to be able to produce on Saturdays."
The difference in philosophy is not that surprising anymore. The Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame ushered in a pro football mentality. That meant less physical contact in practice - until the losses piled up and there was little choice but to try something different - and preserving players for game day.
But apparently Turk needed the practice, and as his number of leg swings has increased, so too has his consistency and productivity.
"I just think it's the new philosophy employed by the coaching staff," Turk said. "They want you kicking more balls and that's been helping me a lot. I don't know the exact number, but (we punt) a few more days a week."
The new staff is careful not to allow the punters and kickers to overdue it, which is why every rep should count.
"Kicking meaningful balls," Turk summarized. "Don't just go out there and start swinging your leg. You have to think about something you want to fix every single day."
Turk's confidence has grown by leaps and bounds since spring drills. He had four punts in the Blue-Gold Game, including a pair of 50-yarders, that averaged 48.2 yards.
"I felt I was training really well in the spring, and then coming out in the spring game helped me to transition into the off-season and into fall camp," Turk said.
It's a far cry from where Turk was during his first stint as a starter. After four games and 18 attempts, Turk was averaging 35.0 yards per punt last year. Maust returned for the next two games, and then Turk took off. He averaged 45.5 yards per his eight punts against Connecticut and Stanford.
"What helped me toward the end of the season was relaxing," Turk said. "Toward the beginning of the year, I was really tense and just thinking too much. I need to go out and relax and produce what I do on the field every day in practice."
Practice may not make perfect, but it has made Turk a better punter.
"What's helped my consistency this year is the repetition of balls hit in practice," Turk said. "Going into the games on Saturday, I'm going to be ready to perform, just like I have in practice."